What do Auckland's older people want?

By Andre Hueber


Don't  mention the "e" word to John Raeburn. The 71-year-old professor says being called "elderly" feels akin to having his throat cut.

He's sad about the way older people can be treated in New Zealand and says society frequently stereotypes them as "non-productive, second-class citizens, who suck money into their pockets through Super".

"They make up the highest number of suicides and can be thought of as a useless, disabled group - derelict creatures hanging from a zimmerframe."

But he says old age, if starting at 65, takes up a third of a person's life, and encompases a range of energy and health.

"We need to rethink the concept of getting older and open up options for what people want."

Dr Raeburn spent 34 years working for the University of Auckland, including being head of behavioural science and later associate professor of the School of Population Health.

He's now an adjunct professor at Auckland University of Technology's Health campus and has been giving talks around Auckland promoting "Super Ageing in the Super City."

The idea is, people have power over their own lives in a supportive, community context.

"The baby boomer bulge is coming through and increasing numbers of older people won't take any nonsense from anyone," says Dr Raeburn.

"Not everyone can afford to go to a retirement village and it's not everyone's cup of tea. To make it the first or only option is a mistake."

He says villages and rest homes can leave a lot to be desired, but concedes they play an important role.

"As old age increases, the likelihood of immobility increases and there may come a time when it's a good thing to do ... but it seems healthier for society to have all players mixing with each other."

He says two groups go to residential establishments: people who have to because they are disabled or sick - often poorer people - and the better off, who make a lifestyle choice to go to "swanky" villages such as those run by organisations such as Metlifecare or Ryman. But he points out 80 per cent of people aged 65 and older still live in their own homes and, while many are happy, it is clear many of those people's needs and wishes are not being attended to.

COMMUNITY FACILITIES

The answer was making community facilities available along the lines of those at Claystore in Devonport and Ka Mau Te Wero Charitable Trust in Glen Innes.

They run a range of activities in which young and old can learn alongside each other.

The professor says Auckland Council has taskforces for youth, Pasifika and Maori, but nothing for older people.

"Older people are mentioned only under the label of disabled under the original Auckland Plan."

Auckland Council community and cultural strategy manager Raewyn Stone says the revised version of the Draft Auckland Plan includes a new directive around older people which acknowledges the contribution they make to the community.

"We mustn't stereotype older people. Some downsize their homes, some don't. Some go to retirement villages, others don't."

Increasing numbers were living into their 90s and 100s, bringing more need for health and personal support services - but others were fit and active and continuing in paid employment. It's about acknowledging the diversity in our older population.

"We recognise they need suitable and affordable housing services. We recognise the contribution they make to children and young people as grandparents.

"Older people have a huge number of skills and lots of expertise and are very valuable to the community."

Ms Stone says the Draft Auckland Plan proposes that community hubs be developed around the region, offering a range of services.

"They might be a school, health centre or community house and they'll respond to whatever the needs are in that area. It's about council supporting things that people are beginning to do anyway."

Grant Withers, Age Concern executive officer for Auckland's central, western and eastern regions, says a gap exists among those who don't want to, or can't afford to, go to a retirement village.

"Most people like being in the community and, once they've sold, what do they do?

"I've been approached by people in retirement villages saying we don't want to go to a leather class or a hip-hop class. They say: 'Why don't you organise us an old-time dance?'."

Age Concern didn't have time to plan such events, but they were something community houses could offer.

On Friday last week Grey Power and Age Concern met Mayor Len Brown and lobbied for Auckland to sign up to the World Health Organisation concept of an "age-friendly city".

"You age from the day you're born," Mr Withers says.

"It's not just for old people, it's about having everyone in mind when buildings are constructed or transport is being planned.

"There's an active group at Tauranga Council and we'd like to see the same in Auckland."

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- The Aucklander

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